Meghalaya “Paradise” Exploited
My Personal Disillusionment with Tourism in Meghalaya
Many may look at me and think I am against the combination of doing business and the concept of Tourism. Far from it, I believe in it, with an emphasis on sustainability and self Determination.
I have personally been involved in the business since 1997. Taking people to remote parts of Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Meghalaya mostly. As time passed, with a growing family, the decision to settle more in one place with a Bed and Breakfast was a natural route, able to give advice to people who really wanted to travel, as well being able to do it how we as a family wished, setting the limits, the traffic and in general trying to control the type of people, in other words ‘Self Determination’.
Going out once in a while with groups or suggesting places or people to go as independent travelers becomes more and more difficult as the direction of ‘Tourism’, to me, is going to people taking advantage of the Tourist rather that looking at the long term sustainability of offering a fair service. Seeing places that offer very little service yet wanting to charge high amounts, just because they assume the tourist is willing to pay, no matter what. This model will sustain for a certain time, but is not the path to long term sustainability. You will rarely get that same person who, just felt cheated, giving good word of mouth to other potential travelers. When we talk sustainability we should be talking self-sustained promotion, where it becomes a natural growth, because people tell others. When a Travel Agent, a Tour Company, a Government or an individual has to keep putting out advertisements, to me, it means you are not on a path to sustainability, you are on a continuous path of trying to convince the person who does not know any better to come to your place, not the traveler who took the time to learn and hear about it..
My first example is the mushrooming of road signs from Shillong to Sohra (Cherrapunjee),(now it is starting on the Shillong Dawki Route). It all started with one Resort putting numerous signs along the road side, on rocks, on metal signs, everywhere. Those sign that says such and such an amount of kilometers to such and such a place, over and over again as you count down to the 1 km to go. This first example has made it so that every home stay, bed and breakfast, hotel, resort and dhaba, feels the necessity to put up bigger and better signs, as well as more and more. Making the entire route unattractive. It says to me, that you are not in a business to attract sustainability.
My second example is the ongoing Meghalaya Drivers associations who feel that outside vehicles should not be allowed to come with tourist they brought from the airport or rail station in Assam. This is not that I disagree with local employment, it is about how it is trying to be done. The reality is that a ‘Tourist Taxi’, which is actually a misleading license, it should either be ‘Transport Taxi’ or Tourist Taxi’, the government should not be licensing every vehicle as a Tourist Taxi. The other reality is that unless you get the government to change the license system, you can’t do it. A Meghalaya driver as does a driver from any state, has the right to have a license to enter 3 States and actually it is called an ‘All India Tourist Taxi’. The locals should be pushing their service, their abilities in the area, this will in turn bring long term sustainability. Many of the taxis that we send people out with, Khasi young men, do not have to stand in line for trips to Guwahati or elsewhere anymore. They mostly get reserved trips, because the word is out, that they are trust worthy, know the area and give a fair price. This is the path to sustainability. Not expectations of deserving something.
My third example is villagers charging an entry for everything, charging high prices as guides and charging high prices for stays without giving the service equivalent to the price. First let’s talk about entries, for me personal, it is a sad way to go. The concept here is build a bamboo viewpoint, charge. Charge to walk down to a living root bridge, charge for every entry along the way, including parking etc. Then forcing you to take a local guide on a village path or destination path. Now, once again, don’t get me wrong, I am not against making money. But it is my own pet peeve. Don’t force a guide: offer a guide and tell the person what the guide will do for you, don’t force an entry fee, but tell the person what you are offering and doing with the intake, and put a donation box – more often than not the Traveler will give a donation exceeding the usual entry fee, if he or she sees the benefit of what you are doing. More often than not he or she will hire a guide if they know the services offered and what it is benefiting. But when it is a destination that is a village walk, anyways, normally improved by cementing through government schemes, why should a traveler need a guide to walk on that path. It is the destination at the end of the path that should be offering services that can turn into sustainable income for the people. Now, if I go to Nongriat or other places, just to visit friends, I have to convince the locals of that, cause they want to charge me as a tourist, to walk down to the village.
A Service, a price and a statement of what you will provide for that price is what is appropriate. Too often we see somebody saying a price and in reality it is just to walk with you, not giving any service. Then they want to charge a price, not as a set group price – they want to charge individually for every member.
If a museum or somethings puts a price on the entry, we hope that that means the money is going toward the maintenance of that museum and adding more items, paying employees etc. But when you see a guide trying to force you to pay a high fee to walk with you and then does not even make an effort to clean the path a little, pick up the garbage or in general maintain the route, it does not make sense.
Or when a village guide charges, he knows very well that if he is a laborer in the village for a day he will get no more than Rs. 400. To 500. For the day, but then when he charges to walk with you for the day it is Rs. 2000. Or 3000. Where is the logic? Again don’t get me wrong about making money, but let’s be reasonable..
There is so much I could go on, but this is just a tidbit of my belief of the wrong direction in Tourism in Meghalaya..
To end it all in the lodging sector: You have the high priced resorts, who hopefully provide facilities equivalent to their price, then you have all the people opening supposed ‘Home Stays’, which are actually guest houses not home stays. But the main point is opening a place or offering a place not equivalent to the service. No effort to make it look nice, decorating, painting or just in general making it comfortable even in simplicity. You should not charge a person Rs 500. Per person and not provide anything – at least the basics need to be provided, bed, mattress, clean bath area and clean toilet, at the very least. As soon as you take a price for a stay, you need to say what you offer for that price.
To end it all ‘Explore the Unexplored’ a favorite term used by many a Travel Agent. Dear Travel Agent you can’t explore the unexplored if you are promoting it as a set Itinerary Trip. Exploring the Unexplored should be just that: no itinerary no objective other than that ‘Explore’.
Let’s wake up and stop selling and allowing the sale just because we are told by some Agent in Delhi, Kolkata or abroad that that is the way it done. They don’t care about the area and the long term impact of the people they are sending, they are there to make short term money from the next ‘up and coming destination’ and will move on when ‘yours’ is overrun and destroyed.